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‘I forgave him for cheating — but can’t forget’

How do you move forward in a relationship when you're haunted by your partner's infidelities? Can you ever recover from such a betrayal? Dr. Gail Saltz offers advice for one hurt mom struggling to fully forgive a cheating boyfriend.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Q. My boyfriend and I have been together for three years. I have a 5-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. They are very close to each other.

Last year, he up and left me out of the blue. It was a nightmare. I spent most my time drinking and crying. We talked daily and after a few weeks he told me he would come home, but that he had slept with another female.

I thought I would die, but was so desperate to have him home, I tried to be OK. He did come home, only to leave again after three weeks.

This again threw me into a deep depression. Knowing he was sleeping with her and throwing our relationship away was the hardest thing to deal with. After two months, we ended up slowly patching things up.

We have now been back together for six months, and although he has expressed how sorry he is for everything, I still can’t let the past go.

I want so badly to move forward and bring our relationship back to where it was, but I cannot forget what happened. I can’t stop thinking of another female touching him or of the nights I lay on the floor crying and throwing up because I was in such pain.

He gets angry when I try to bring this up, because I want to get my feelings out in the open. He says I need to chill out and forget it already. He doesn’t understand the deep pain he caused me.

I’m afraid I will ruin the relationship for good, because the pain is now turning into anger and hate toward him. I don't trust him and I am always thinking he is up to no good. Is there any hope for us, or more specifically, for me?

A. This is a tough one to call. Your joint future hinges on whether you are able to forgive him and whether he truly is committed to you.

Yours is not an unusual scenario. He cheats, you are betrayed and traumatized, he refuses to take any responsibility for the situation, and you are at an impasse. That’s what happens with infidelity.

It is not surprising that you are moving from pain to anger, or that you don’t trust him. He has left you not once, but twice. There hasn’t been a lot of time to see if he is worthy of regaining your trust.

He needs to truly prove he is understanding and trustworthy. This means more than not sleeping with someone else. It means being where he says he will be when he says he will be there, going out of his way to demonstrate what you mean to him, and being loyal, faithful and loving toward you. That takes more than a few months.

Meanwhile, his viewpoint is: Forget it already. The reality is that you will never forget it, and he shouldn’t expect you to. But you should be working on whether you are willing and able to forgive him. If you continue to beat him up about this, the relationship will dissolve.

Right now, you are each too far apart when it comes to the fallout of infidelity. He is at one extreme when saying it is done and over so it should be forgotten. And you are at the other extreme when you can’t stop talking about it and it affects your every waking thought.

So, to repair this relationship, you must both move toward a middle ground. Because there is a child involved, and your boyfriend’s departure would be a loss for your daughter, I suggest you seek professional help. You are not married, but even many marriages do not survive infidelity without professional intervention.

For most of the couples that do survive, both parties want it to and are willing to work at it.

So, if you cannot overcome the impasse on your own, I suggest you see a therapist together, who can lay down steps about how your boyfriend can best acknowledge your feelings and how you can best back off from endlessly flagellating him for his transgressions. If your boyfriend refuses to accompany you, I would say you have a low chance of remaining together.

If the relationship falls apart, you should still go to counseling yourself. You are describing feelings so traumatizing that you might have trouble trusting anyone.

Dr. Gail’s bottom line: Infidelity is never easy. A couple can recover from infidelity only if both are committed to staying together.

Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit .